September is a rather transitional month when it comes to food, with days fluctuating between hot and cold. In terms of produce, summer vegetables are still quite delicious, but we start to want heartier flavors. In fact, some vegetables that were in season all summer are actually better tasting in the fall, such as eggplant.
Fall eggplant, or akinasu, were traditionally thought to be so delicious that there was a proverb saying they shouldn’t be given to your daughter-in-law. Whether this was mean-spirited or out of concern for her well-being — eggplant is thought to cool the body, which would be bad as the temperature drops — is up for debate.
This recipe has plenty of fall eggplant, as well as bell pepper and zucchini. I call it a “Japanese ratatouille” since it’s made just like the classic dish from Provence, except that I add a flavorful, spicy meat sauce to give it a Japanese-Chinese twist. The key here is to cook each vegetable separately, since they all have different cooking times. This may seem like an extra step, but the results are worth it, and time-wise it doesn’t take much longer than throwing everything into the pan at once. Vary the amount of doubanjiang, a spicy Chinese bean paste, depending on how hot you’d like it to be. This is great spooned over plain rice.
Prep: 15 mins.; cook: 25 mins.
For the meat sauce:
• 1 medium onion, cut into wedges
• 1 garlic clove, minced
• 150 grams ground pork or beef
• 1 tablespoon sake
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 2 tablespoons miso
• ½ teaspoon dashi stock granules
• 1½-2 teaspoons doubanjiang, or to taste
• 2 teaspoons katakuriko (potato starch) or cornstarch dissolved in 120 milliliters water
• 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
• Olive oil or vegetable oil
• 4 small eggplant, roughly chopped
• ½ large red bell pepper, roughly chopped
• ½ yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped
• 2 small or ½ large green pepper, roughly chopped
• 2 small zucchini, cut into rounds
• Sanshō pepper or black pepper to taste
1. Heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the garlic and saute for a couple minutes. Add the ground meat and saute until it changes color. Put the sake and sugar in the pan and stir briefly, then add the miso, dashi stock granules and doubanjiang. Pour in the starch water. Add the tomatoes. Simmer over medium heat until it has reduced and thickened.
2. While the sauce is cooking, stir-fry the other vegetables. Heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan or a wok over medium heat, and add the eggplant. Stir-fry until lightly browned. Remove the eggplant, put in the bell peppers and stir-fry until slightly wilted — about five minutes. Remove the peppers, put in the zucchini and stir-fry for three to four minutes.
3. Put the vegetables back into the frying pan or wok and cover with a lid. Steam-fry for about three to four minutes over medium-low heat until all the vegetables are tender. Add the meat-miso sauce and raise the heat to high. Stir well to combine and cook off any excess moisture. Serve sprinkled with sanshō pepper to taste — the more you add, the spicier it will be.
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